It is my belief that Jenson Button, the most triumphant driver of the 2009 season, has won the first and last world championship of his Formula One career. While my crystal ball is not always accurate, I feel Button’s move to McLaren may prove to be his downfall. I also believe I would have written this post even if the Briton had chosen to remain with Brawn for the 2010 season. Why am I being so pessimistic? Read on…
Given a choice of McLaren or Brawn for 2010, the answer is probably McLaren, and therefore Jenson Button has made a wise move. Brawn came from nowhere less than twelve months ago to storm to victory through the year and take both titles, but a fairytale story always has an ending. Comparing the resources of both teams, and combined with the historical facts, you would surely have to place your eggs in the Woking basket.
For evidence of McLaren’s great skill in development, you just have to look at the respective performances of both teams during 2009. Brawn started off very strong, but faded considerably and struggled to get themselves out of the non-winning rut. Conversely, McLaren started out at the beginning of the season in a less-than-favourable position, but dedicatedly developed their way into a race winning position. This, I am sure, will be carried over to 2010.
Of course, Mercedes have now purchased a majority stake in Brawn, and with that comes significant funding and undoubtedly security and expertise. Experience is already there as Ross Brawn has once again proven that he can win world championships, and the elder gentlemen and women from the Honda days know what they are doing. But McLaren have been doing it for longer.
So it is my belief that Button has made the correct choice, but it still remains my belief that he won’t take the 2010 title, and from there, it will become increasingly harder to take any more.
The McLaren family seems to be centred around Lewis Hamilton in the sister car, and having already taken one title for his beloved team, it is understandable that the general leaning within the crew is towards Hamilton’s garage. Although they may give each driver equal opportunity, equal equipment and insist on no team orders until necessary (one driver being out of a championship-winning position), there is still that Lewis is our man ethos. One cannot blame a team for this, it is natural human behaviour to lean towards the proven winner whom you know inside-and-out.
McLaren have run two world champions in their cars before, and although this has given the team immense success in the late ’80s, the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost did at times get played out in front of the fans on the race track. It was clear that there was little love between the two great drivers and while that may have been acceptable in an era when it is said that men were men and boys were boys, in today’s overly-corporate world, sponsors will be wanting a happy family to promote their brands. I’m not suggesting I agree with this, merely that it is a reality.
We saw a little of this in 2007 with the pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Although Hamilton was yet to win his title (the ’07 season being his debut) the rookie’s ability behind the steering wheel soon started to make headlines. Alonso, already a double champion, probably felt slightly on edge about the unexpected competitive nature of his team mate, and soon enough, sparks flew from the McLaren camp. And much like when Senna and Prost collided at the Suzuka chicane, Hamilton held up Alonso in the Hungarian pitlane, impeding his team mate during qualifying.
Since then Hamilton has matured, as he showed the world in 2009 with some gritty drives in a car that wasn’t always a comfortable winner. In front of the media he seemed more relaxed – or at least, after the first couple of races he did – and Hamilton showed that he could work with his team and come across to all as a generally calm and focused driver. However, Hamilton’s team mate of the past two years has failed to push him like Alonso did in 2007. That element of pressure from Heikki Kovalainen’s side of the garage failed to materialise and it is a key force for any driver. You will always want to beat your team mate, but teams know it should never be easy. Kovalainen was a bit too easy for Hamilton.
Jenson Button, while a great driver and someone who has finally proven his worth in Formula One, will struggle to ultimately beat Hamilton. And if the pair somehow end up at the final race still both within shout of the title, I would feel safer putting money on the driver who is not defending his title. Having said that, Button will apply substantial pressure on Hamilton. Like in 2007, the younger Briton will be paired with a much more experienced pilot, and right now Jenson will be on Cloud-9 and will carry the number 1 on his car. Hamilton will have to make do with number 2.
As we saw in 2007, and look back even further at the late-80’s and early-90’s, team mate rivalry can win many titles, but it can also lose you some. In 2007 it was Kimi Raikkonen who crept through to finally take the title, driving McLaren’s nemesis, a Ferrari.
I feel that the pairing will prove to be very successful for McLaren, and the team should and likely will take some constructor’s titles with the British duo. But with regards to driver’s titles…
…well, you already know how I think this is going to play out for Button. Perhaps it is time I hand this over to the capable hands of you.